Greetings, fellow lovers of the written word. While I am a bit behind in NaNoWriMo, I am still relishing the experience and racing with the others toward the finish line. To prove what I’ve been up to, I’m posting a chunk of my work in progress for you to jeer, critique, or offer any opinions. In return, I want something from you.
If you blog, I want you to post a small snippet of whatever it is you’re working on currently, be it for NaNoWriMo or something else. Leave your blog link in my comments so that the others coming upon this entry can take a peek. It’s us at our roughest and most unedited, but that’s how stories told around campfires or as bedtime stories often are. We will simply have to promise a final coat of polish before our works hit publication. 😉
The author interviews will resume on Monday. For now, this is a bit from Chapter Two of The Unquiet Dead.
The stench of the city hit my nostrils long before I arrived at the front gates. I gagged as I passed where the populace deposited their excrement and stared, wide-eyed, when I saw the heads of prosecuted criminals on the spires surrounding me. The first few roads which made up the main thoroughfare were abuzz with activity, young children racing past while the crowd gathered around storefronts and friars preaching salvation to those apt to listen. I used the few pence I had to my name to purchase a meal and slept out by the horses when one innkeeper took pity on me enough to allow it. The next day brought with it a reckoning, though. If I was going to make it on my own, I had to figure out how I would survive.
At first, I scrounged scraps and stole a loaf of bread when the baker had his back turned. I slept each night with the horses and bathed in the creek far outside town when the smell of horses saturated through my clothing. By a week into my newly-acquired emancipation, I began to wonder if any of the local tradesmen would take on an apprentice while knowing I was far too old to count on receiving that sort of favor. I stumbled upon what would be my next profession on accident, three days later.
A group of men had been sitting outside one of the many taverns, drunk from ale and wasting time as the sun began to dip in the horizon. Lamps were being lit and summer was surrendering to autumn as the air had turned crisp and the scents in the air aromatic with more than filth. I polished the blade of my sword with a dirty cloth I’d torn from a discarded sack, in some effort to ignore the hunger gnawing at my stomach. I would’ve been content doing this, if not for being interrupted by one of the inebriated men.
“Hey, lad,” he called out, in a grating manner which brought my task to an immediate halt. He laughed, but I fought the urge to glance up at him when he continued. “What’s a boy doin’ with a man’s weapon?”
Two of his friends sniggered in the background. I heard the sound of him getting to his feet and sighed when he started walking toward where I sat. “Bet one could fetch a few pence for a blade like that. You buyin’ us a round tonight, lad?” he asked.
“The sword isn’t for sale,” I said. Once again, the cloth in hand resumed the stroke which had been interrupted. “Go back to your drinking and leave me be.”
“Listen to him, right? Thinks he’s a noble’s son and hasn’t learned better.” I finally glanced up at him when he paused and bent a few feet away from me. “You’re just a bloody street urchin. You stink like a horse’s arse, you do.”
“Better than reeking of drunkard.” A smirk curled the corner of my mouth, more of a dare than I was willing to admit to myself at the time. Still, a strange cause and effect played out in my mind, a series of events I hadn’t been able to visualize since my father had been taken from me. It was as though a muse had woken from its slumber, summoned to come out and play again after so long in a box. It was a game my father had indulged while teaching me how to use the sword. See what your opponent’s about to do before he does it.
I was astonished at how prophetic my imagination turned out to be.
He reached for the sword’s hilt, thinking he would catch me off-guard and jumped aback when I captured his wrist in my hand. What started as surprise transformed into anger, but I dodged when I knew he would throw a punch and kicked him in the shin before clamoring away. He held his leg and swore under his breath. I drew my weapon, anticipating his next move would be to charge at me. This served to be enough of a deterrent and my attacker withdrew to where his friends stood.
They, on the other hand, scowled at me, indicating the altercation had yet to come to an end. One pulled a dagger and walked forward, his eyes shouting malice while he advanced. I clutched the sword with both hands, a slight wave of nervousness running through me as I realized I was out of practice. Father had always told me I was nimble. I could only hope my wits remained sharp even if my skills had atrophied.
He swiped at the air to intimidate me and I lurched backward, catching my footing before the clumsy maneuver brought me to the ground. The others chuckled, one calling out, “He’s scared of you, Nate!” and my first challenger adding, “Split ‘em open and see how he likes his belly bein’ spilled all over the street.” I swallowed hard, attempting not to see that as a real possibility, and dodged another swipe out of instinct. Nate smirked, revealing a mouth full of rotten teeth, some missing in what I figured was a bar fight or two. He thrust the blade forward, forcing me to a clamor again and I nearly tripped when my feet moved from cobblestone to dirt. It kicked up a cloud which caused Nate to launch into a coughing fit.
A slow, wicked grin crossed my lips as I had the idea I needed.
Freeing one hand, I reached down and picked up a handful of earth, casting it upward blindly and watching as the greater portion of it hit Nate’s face. He stumbled back, falling onto his arse and leaving himself exposed in the process. I kicked his wrist, sending the dagger flying onto the ground while he cried out in pain. I could almost see the wicked glint in my eyes when I scratched the surface of his neck with my blade point. “Looks like I have another dagger, Nate. Think I might have supper tonight after all,” I said.
Nate groaned and I picked up my prize, taking it into the inn to relish the first good meal I’d had since arriving in the city.
The confrontation, however, had caused the seeds of revelation to germinate, bringing about a solution to my problem. The next night, I wagered my sword against a man armed with a similar blade and had him disarmed within minutes, to the delight of a crowd which had assembled. When I sold it to the blacksmith, I fetched a price high enough to guarantee the next weeks’ meals would be more than paid for by my earnings. Two nights later, another man challenged me and this time, we engaged in a series of exchanged blows before I claimed his weapon from him. I didn’t need to sell this one, however. The onlookers had tossed coins at me, which I scooped up before thanking them all with a bow.
While the victories should have ensured my needs were met for at least a month, the exhibitionist inside got the better of me. I found myself engaged in battles every few nights and collected enough profit that I became an incorrigible bastard. I purchased my first experiences with a prostitute and lavished on myself whatever my selfish heart desired. At night, if I had nothing left to purchase a room, I slept under the stars the same way I often did while traveling with my father.
Two months of this carried on, until warmer weather brought another band of travelers through the city and another batch of willing victims to fill my purse. On the first evening, I performed more of an exhibition and collected the coins thrown at me with a customary bow to the crowd. The next two evenings were spent in opulence, with nothing left by night three which demanded another demonstration take place. I strolled to my usual spot and declared myself open for challengers should anyone be bold enough to take the gauntlet thrown.
A gruff voice called out from the center of the crowd, “Think I might take you up on that offer, lad, if no one else is going to be brave enough to.”
The people parted ways around him. I stood, regarding the tall, stocky man who emerged while feeling a nervous flutter in my stomach at the sight of him. His face bore two scars, one which cut across his forehead and another down his left cheek, with evidence that his nose had been broken at least once. He removed a set of gloves and I raised an eyebrow at the two fingers missing from his left hand, seeing before me an entire tome of stories waiting to be told about adventures I could have only dreamt about. A sword sheathed by his side, the leather bore enough wear to suggest that pulling the blade was a common practice of his. He tilted his head, a full mane of brown hair spilling onto his shoulder with the gesture. Given the amount of damage to him, his age was indistinguishable, but I assumed him no younger than his early thirties.
“You’re a scrawny urchin,” he said once he had studied me to his satisfaction. He tossed the gloves to the side and removed his cloak, depositing it where his gloves had landed. “Doesn’t seem like a boy like you should be causing the stir you’ve been.”
My brow smoothed as a grin curled the corner of my mouth. “The name is Christian, sir,” I said. “And that looks like a lovely sword. I should like to own it.”
The stranger huffed, a smirk breaking out on his face. “Was about to accuse you of being educated for an urchin, but you just showed how much learning you’re still lacking.” He drew his sword, the smile evaporating, but the amusement still present in his eyes. “Your move first, Christian.”